Innovator Jessica О. Matthews has a plan for creating renewable energy through everyday movement
In an interview to the Essence Magazine businesswoman and innovator shared with her success and her thoughts about business.
Jessica О. Matthews doesn’t think small. Through her energy company. Uncharted Play, she uses science and technology to transform everyday actions—walking across a room, sitting in a chair, pushing a box—into energy generating movements that can actually power things, like your cell phone or the lights in your house.
In 2011. Matthews, 28. officially launched the Soccket. a soccer ball that doubles as a microgenerator that can. for every hour of play, power lights for three hours. She sold the balls worldwide, and they had particular resonance in underserved communities in countries like Nigeria, where her family is from. Soon it became apparent that the underlying technology was far more compelling than the products themselves, and in 2016.
Matthews moved her headquarters to Harlem and raised $7 million in venture capital (VC) to develop microgenerators that could work in multiple products. (According to TechCrunch. she’s the thirteenth Black female founder to raise more than $1 million in VC funding.)
You launched Uncharted Play five years ago. Where is the company today?
We’re on a mission to democratize energy access worldwide. Our core technology is called MORE— motion-based off-grid
renewable energy. We have more than 15 patents and patents pending covering this platform that’s able to harness kinetic energy from three core motions: rotational, like using a wheel: linear compression. which can include pushing something; and sliding, like the friction between two fabrics. So you can imagine integrating this technology into pants.
I have a phrase I love: “Thick thighs save lives.” I personally believe in that very much. You can take the power from your thighs rubbing and use that to charge your cell phone. It’s exciting because everyone moves; it’s one of the most underutilized forms of renewable energy out there. Imagine being in a room where everything around you is a source of power.
How did you go from creating the soccer balls to focusing on the base technology that other businesses could use?
There wasn’t an instantaneous lightbulb moment, but I did want to make sure that we were maximizing our impact, and over time, it became clear that the most influential thing we can do is not to make millions of Soccket balls. We sparked an interest in what’s possible for kinetic energy. Our strength was not in the overall manufacturing of the final product, but in our ability to integrate microgenerators into other companies’ products seamlessly. You’ll see some of those products coming out in the next 12 to 18 months.
So much of the start-up world Is about moving fast, creating fast, doing everything fast. What you’re doing takes time. What has this process taught you about patience?
I’ve learned you have to be very good at trusting your gut and your logic when you’re trying to build trends. You have to be very comfortable not asking, “Okay, what does the market want today?” but asking. “What will the market want in the next five years?” You have to start building the future today.
What inspires you to keep going?
In many ways. I never dreamed of being where I am today. I didn’t grow up saying. “I want to run a company of X size.” If I say. “I want to build a billion-dollar tech company in Harlem because of what it will do for the people of Harlem and specifically girls who look like me,” well, now I’m willing to jump into the fire. I can maintain the crazy risk-taking side of me because I’m fighting for something bigger than me.